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Berries, Nuts and Spices

May 21, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Hippocrates, the much revered ancient Greek physician and “father of Western medicine”, is reputed to have said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Modern science continually supports his notion that common, everyday foods can indeed possess medicinal properties. But that doesn’t mean that every natural food will be therapeutic under every circumstance. Rather, researchers need to study nutritional medicine meticulously on a case-by-case basis.

The cooking process is usually required for the enjoyment and safety of beef, chicken, fish, pork and many other varieties of meat. However the high heat generated from barbecuing, frying and grilling can interact with proteins in these foods and create carcinogenic byproducts known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Eating HCAs on a regular basis appears to increase the risk of developing many malignancies including breast, colorectal, lung, stomach and prostate cancer. Current research from around the world suggests that marinading and seasoning foods with spices such as ginger, hibiscus, rosemary and turmeric can inhibit HCA production by up 79%. Dr. J. Scott Smith, a food chemistry processor at the University of Arkansas, theorizes that “antioxidant spices with phenolic compounds can block HCAs before they form during the heating and still allow high temperatures to be maintained”. In other words, antioxidant-rich marinades and spice rubs may allow you to “have your steak and eat it too”. (1,2,3,4)

Barrett’s esophagus is an inflammatory condition characterized by damage to the lower esophagus caused by repeated exposure to stomach acid. It’s often diagnosed in patients living with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and is worrisome because it’s been associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. According to preliminary research, eating berries may provide a chemopreventive effect against esophageal carcinogenesis. Researchers at Ohio State University discovered that feeding cancer prone rats a diet consisting of 5% berries is “effective in inhibiting NMBA-induced tumorigenesis in the rat esophagus”. Reductions in inflammatory markers and an increase in antioxidant capacity was noted. In all, seven different types of berries were evaluated in the experiment – acai, black raspberries, blueberries, noni, red raspberries, strawberries and wolfberries. They were all found “equally capable of inhibiting tumor progression … in spite of known differences in levels of anthocyanins and ellagitannins” – phytochemicals with documented anti-cancer activity. (5,6)

Berry Extracts May Discourage the Growth of Esophageal Cancer
Source: Semin Cancer Biol. 2007 October; 17(5): 403–410. (link)

A new review published in the Archives of Internal Medicine provides the most comprehensive data yet about the cholesterol-lowering effects of nut consumption. A total of 25 studies conducted in 7 countries and involving 583 men and women where included in this scientific summary. On average, the intervention trials asked the study volunteers to consume 67 grams of nuts or just over 2 ounces per day.

  • A 5.1% decline in total cholesterol and a 7.4% reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol was reported.
  • An 8.3% improvement in the LDL (“bad”) to HDL (“good”) cholesterol ratio was also documented.
  • Triglycerides declined by 10.2% in subjects with starting triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL or higher.

The cardiovascular benefits of nuts extend beyond a simple shift in lipid levels. The May 2010 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition points out that nut consumption may also play an important role in those at risk for metabolic syndrome – a combination of health risks that involve poor blood sugar control and a variety of cardiovascular risk markers such as elevated lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and high blood pressure. Researchers at the University of Toronto believe that nuts may reduce post-meal blood sugar fluctuations when eaten with carbohydrate rich foods. In addition, nuts prompt only minor elevations in blood sugar when eaten alone. These factors, in combination with the high nutrient density of nuts which provide “a good source of vegetable protein and are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals”, lead the Canadian scientists to conclude that, “the inclusion of nuts in the diets of individuals with diabetes and metabolic syndrome is warranted, in view of their potential to reduce CHD (coronary heart disease) risk”. (7,8)

In practical terms, here’s how I would apply the above information. Whenever you bake, barbecue, broil, fry or grill meat, consider marinading or seasoning it liberally with antioxidant-rich herbs and spices. If you have frequent heartburn or if you’ve been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, try including plenty of berries in your diet and make sure to have your doctor monitor your condition to rule out the potential development of malignant esophageal cells. Finally, consider eating plenty of nuts and seeds if you want to manage your blood sugar and cholesterol naturally. I can’t say for sure, but I think Hippocrates would approve of my advice.

Be well!


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9 Comments & Updates to “Berries, Nuts and Spices”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Hello JP ☺

    great article – as always ☺ !

    Wish you and yours a wonderfull weekend ☼☼☼

    Nina K.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Nina! Your positive comments and support are always appreciated! :)

    I wish you and yours the same!

    Be wel1!


  3. Sai Says:

    Good Day JP!

    Can’t agree more on nuts! Moderation is the key though. Any good ideas for getting these berries (mostly with food grade wax)cleaned? Is soaking them with sea salt water for an hour before consumption a good idea? your thought on this..I have used the wax removing liquid but not sure about it’s effectiveness. Another very good post as always.

    Best Regards


  4. JP Says:

    Thank you, Sai. :)

    We often purchase organic, frozen berries. We don’t wash them at all as they’re already “pre-washed” prior to being frozen. These work great for homemade fruit sauces and protein shakes/smoothies.

    When we use fresh berries, we try to find organic varieties as well and briefly soak them in a solution of water and a natural fruit/vegetable wash called Veggie Wash.


    Be well!


  5. Anne Says:

    There is so much information out there about the value of eating a variety of foods expecially fruits and vegetables.

    Berries, nuts and spices have a high antioxidant content.

    It’s all about eating the foods that are good for you!

    We’re coming into the local berry season here in NJ – I can’t wait!

  6. JP Says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Anne!

    Enjoy the seasonal berries! :)

    Be well!


  7. Maketta Says:

    I’m learning everyday how important it is to eat a variety of foods, and how it is so much better for your health. Really enjoyed reading this article!

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you, Maketta! :-)

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Update: Nuts & peanuts may lower all-cause mortality …


    Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality

    Importance: High intake of nuts has been linked to a reduced risk of mortality. Previous studies, however, were primarily conducted among people of European descent, particularly those of high socioeconomic status.

    Objective: To examine the association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality in Americans of African and European descent who were predominantly of low socioeconomic status (SES) and in Chinese individuals in Shanghai, China.

    Design, Setting, and Participants: Three large cohorts were evaluated in the study. One included 71 764 US residents of African and European descent, primarily of low SES, who were participants in the Southern Community Cohort Study (SCCS) in the southeastern United States (March 2002 to September 2009), and the other 2 cohorts included 134 265 participants in the Shanghai Women’s Health Study (SWHS) (December 1996 to May 2000) and the Shanghai Men’s Health Study (SMHS) (January 2002 to September 2006) in Shanghai, China. Self-reported nut consumption in the SCCS (approximately 50% were peanuts) and peanut-only consumption in the SMHS/SWHS were assessed using validated food frequency questionnaires.

    Main Outcomes and Measures: Deaths were ascertained through linkage with the National Death Index and Social Security Administration mortality files in the SCCS and annual linkage with the Shanghai Vital Statistics Registry and by biennial home visits in the SWHS/SMHS. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to calculate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs.

    Results: With a median follow-up of 5.4 years in the SCCS, 6.5 years in the SMHS, and 12.2 years in the SWHS, 14 440 deaths were identified. More than half of the women in the SCCS were ever smokers compared with only 2.8% in the SWHS. The ever-smoking rate for men was 77.1% in the SCCS and 69.6% in the SMHS. Nut intake was inversely associated with risk of total mortality in all 3 cohorts (all P < .001 for trend), with adjusted HRs associated with the highest vs lowest quintiles of intake being 0.79 (95% CI, 0.73-0.86) and 0.83 (95% CI, 0.77-0.88), respectively, for the US and Shanghai cohorts. This inverse association was predominantly driven by cardiovascular disease mortality (P < .05 for trend in the US cohort; P < .001 for trend in the Shanghai cohorts). When specific types of cardiovascular disease were examined, a significant inverse association was consistently seen for ischemic heart disease in all ethnic groups (HR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.45-0.85 in blacks; HR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.39-0.92 in whites; and HR, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.54-0.89 in Asians for the highest vs lowest quintile of nut intake). The associations for ischemic stroke (HR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.60-1.00 for the highest vs lowest quintile of nut intake) and hemorrhagic stroke (HR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.60-0.99 for the highest vs lowest quintile of nut intake) were significant only in Asians. The nut-mortality association was similar for men and women and for blacks, whites, and Asians and was not modified by the presence of metabolic conditions at study enrollment.

    Conclusions and Relevance: Nut consumption was associated with decreased overall and cardiovascular disease mortality across different ethnic groups and among individuals from low SES groups. Consumption of nuts, particularly peanuts given their general affordability, may be considered a cost-effective measure to improve cardiovascular health.

    Be well!


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